24 Hour Party People

The art of freeloading: on Cocktails, Canapés, Crashers and C-list celebrities

Text by Bea Lager
Illustration by Christina Ung

Groucho Marx’s famous quote, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member,” seems a befitting mantra for the international “secret” cabal of uninvited guests (also known as freeloaders and gatecrashers), who would show up for the opening of an envelope as long as there is free swag, booze and food. Like any addiction, once you get a taste for open bars, unlimited canapés, gift bags chock-full of high-end perfumes, makeup, accessories, electronics and gift cards—it’s easy to get hooked and crave more.
  No matter where you are in the world, these uninvited folks get a rush from being where they don’t belong, whether its within the inner echelons of society, mingling with the rich and famous, or just imbibing for free. This fearless group won’t let a clipboard Nazi, burly security guards or even the front door keep them from reaching the other side of the velvet rope.

New York
With an endless number of events every night from product launches to benefits—Gotham is crawling with social leeches in all forms, from hipsters to geriatrics. Their marathons are twice a year during fashion weeks when events are in overdrive and swag is everywhere. Just like the gangs of New York, there is camaraderie, rivalry and envy amongst the crashers. The key to their survival is in the speed and reciprocation of information. While it’s impossible for one person to know about every event in town, when they work together they can accomplish great feats. But crasher envy occurs when someoene shows up at a party with swag bags from events the others were not aware of.

 One particularly adept NY couple is known as “the Mice”—not only because of their physical stature, but also for their uncanny ability to scurry into all of the best parties uninvited by memorizing the blueprints of all of the major hotels and museums in the city. Then there is the character known as, “the Governor,” who cons his name onto lists by attaching himself to celebrities. So determined is “the Governor” that he will don uniforms and costumes (like a chef’s outfit) over his suit in order to sneak in through the kitchen. But the most notorious party crasher in NY is “Shaggy,” an octogenarian with a tenacity of crashing events daily. His efforts to be near the rich and famous earned him his own cult celebrity status (he even has a TV deal in the works) after he was exposed in Page Six and Vanity Fair.

Held every May, Cannes Film Festival is a ten day marathon where producers, directors, movie stars, oil sheiks, titans of industry and billionaires descend, attracting those who want to be around them: MAWs (model-actress-whatevers), and crashers. Every night is filled with glamorous parties that go well into the daylight hours, from black tie gala openings on the beach or in hillside villas, to cocktail parties aboard the largest yachts in the world. Some gold-diggers will go to great lengths, even risking personal safety to crash a party. Last year, two Russian MAWs tried to crash billionaire Paul Allen’s party aboard the Tatoosh yacht by rolling up on jet skis in their cocktail dresses. While girls dressed to the nines in evening gowns and jewelry can usually score invites to the premieres by hanging out in the lobby at the Carlton or the Hotel Majestic, male crashers have to be a bit more crafty in their strategy. A well-known group of German crashers more stealth than World War I bombers, carefully and strategically plan their entry attack to every high-profile event—even those with security that rivals Fort Knox. With plans as tight as a drum, they arrive armed with wristbands in every color, invisible ink pens and knowledge of every side entrance to the venue. When they are ready to launch their party invasion in Cannes, not even holograms can stop them.

San Francisco
A decade ago, San Francisco was ripe with crashers eating and drinking for free. With companies popping up faster than zits on a prepubescent teen, there was no shortage of company launches and expensed meals. But with the burst of the Internet bubble, so came the burst of all of the hopes and dreams of the freeloaders. Fast-forward to ten years later: the crashers have moved on to greener pastures but the gold-diggers seeking their fortune in the form of a tech gazillionaire remain. While these wealth-hunters may have to dig a little harder since the wells of excess have dried up—there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for those who attend the annual Red and White Ball. The ball’s founder—whose claim to fame is getting Melinda hitched to Bill Gates and Melanie introduced to Larry (as in Oracle founder, Ellison)—has an enviable rolodex of tech scions who cashed out before the bust. Of course, women must submit a photo first, while most of the men’s worth can be assessed through SEC filings or a simple Google search. This matchmaking maven has proven through her many successful unions that she is able to identify what each party is seeking. The best thing about her services is that they’re tax deductible, as she only accepts payments in the form of charitable donations.

Los Angeles
Wherever there is a concentration of celebrities, there are always bloodsuckers that try to feed off of them. Over the last few years, the number of companies producing celebrity gifting suites has grown exponentially into a multimillion dollar industry. All awards shows have them, from the Emmys to the Oscars to the MTV Video Music Awards—because we all know that celebrities love freebies, especially the C and D-listers. The price of bestowing free products to celebrities in exchange for bragging rights and the possible photo op doesn’t come cheap. To guarantee an A-lister’s presence, celebrities are paid upwards of $25,000 just to show up for their photo ops and free loot. Naturally, Hollywood is a magnet for crashers and celebrity hounds who storm the ropes for movie premieres and award shows. Of course, if you ask them, they are all actors or producers with “projects in development.” Peak-season for these star-chasers is awards season, which runs from September to March. Every awards show (Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammys, Emmys) is filled with an entire week’s worth of celebrity swag gifting suites and lavish, celebrity-ridden parties. Crashers have been known to hire fake paparazzi, who wait at the entrance and suddenly start snapping away as the crasher leaves his or her rented limo—all to give the illusion of celebrity.

What started as an independent film festival has mushroomed into an advertiser’s swag Mecca. With corporate sponsorships underwriting the once sleepy festival, corporations pay big bucks to get their product into the hands of celebrities. Like flies to honey, these crashers are not only limited to wannabe actors and producers looking for their big break, or ski bums looking for free food and drink—it now attracts C, D and F-list celebrities on the hunt for as much swag as they can grub. Poull Brien filmed a comedic documentary entitled Sundance Celebrity Swag Hunt about celebrity gifting, in which C-list actors Gary Coleman (Diff’rent Strokes) and Dustin Diamond (Saved by the Bell) compete to see who can get the most swag at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. With no other purpose in Sundance but to garner swag, these two shamelessly entered every gift suite to get as much product as they could talk their way into. At the end of the week, Diamond was the clear winner of the contest, with over $69,000 in product. (Gary Coleman came in with $39,000.) However, we all know that there is no free lunch in this world. Come April, these swag hunters will get a hefty bill from the IRS for taxes on the full retail value of all their “free” gifts.